Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Petersburg - Then and Now - Phoenix Hall

One of Petersburg's many antebellum crown jewels was Phoenix Hall. Located on Bollingbrook Street, it replaced the theater of that street's name which burned in 1850. Phoenix Hall sometimes competed with Mechanics Hall on Sycamore Street for the city's artistic performances. The Phoenix Hall venue served many purposes. Here, traditional theater performances and political rallies dominated the stage and put people in its 700 seats. One of its many pre-Civil War events was the Virginia Democratic convention which nominated John Letcher for governor.

During the Civil War, the Petersburg Daily Express often printed notices for shows that appeared at Phoenix Hall. In the June 11, 1863 edition (shown above), Miss Katie Estelle and Mr. William Burke offered shows "The Chamber of Death" and "The Man and Tiger," respectively. Phoenix Hall hosted tableaux shows, often presented by the city's elite women, who attempted to raise funds for the companies of soldiers that were raised in Petersburg. The famed and enslaved African American pianist, Blind Tom, also presented during the Civil War.

Today, it is possible that elements of the Phoenix Theater survive in the L.A. Sheffield building (below).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Petersburg - Then and Now

Doing research for a custom walking tour of Civil War Petersburg, and seeking images that I could incorporate into a "then and now" style presentation, I located the above image on the Library of Congress website. It shows Union Gen. Edward Fererro and his staff with guards at what is now 129 South Sycamore.

One source I located stated that the home was owned by the Ragland family. However, I am not sure that is the true, because the Ragland mansion, which is a well known residence, is two houses south of this home. It is possible though that the wealth Ragland owned both homes. Regardless, the photograph appears to be taken during occupation of the city and soon after President Lincoln's assassination, as mourning bunting  is wrapped around the porch columns.

Ferrero, a dance instructor and choreographer before the war, was born in Spain to Italian parents, who moved to New York City when he was an infant. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Ferrero raised the 51st New York Infantry regiment. He served under Ambrose Burnside on the North Carolina coast and led forces at Second Manassas and Antietam, where his command charged Burnside's Bridge.

Soon sent west with the IX Corps, he fought at Vicksburg and Knoxville. Transferred back east he led a division of USCTs at the Battle of Crater on July 30, 1864. Ferrero was criticized for his lack of leadership in the Crater fight, preferring to remain safely behind lines rather then directing his troops. Amazingly he did not suffer loss of his command, but did muster out of the service in August 1865 and returned to New York City where he resumed is career in dancing and theater.